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For as long as Sanjay Poonen can remember, he’s been infatuated with teams. Whether it was the late Koby Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the idea of team success has consistently guided him from one point in life to the next. Today, Sanjay serves as the Chief Operating Officer of VMware, a company that employs more than 30,000 employees and is helping people unlock new opportunities through technology. On this episode of IT Visionaries, he discusses his love of teams as well as the importance of continual learning and how you can unlock your own opportunities within your company.
3 Key Takeaways
- There are many problems that can be solved with tech
- Great organizations are built off great team performance, not individual success
- It’s important to experience different roles within the company
For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.
For as long as Sanjay Poonen can remember, he’s been infatuated with teams. Whether it was the late Koby Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers or Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the idea of team success has consistently quenched his thirst. Today, Poonen serves as the Chief Operating Officer of VMware, a company that employs more than 30,000 employees and is helping people unlock new opportunities through technology. IT Visionaries sat down with Poonen to discuss why team building is so important to a company’s growth, the need for continual learning, and why stepping outside your comfort zone will pay dividends for your career growth.
Poonen immigrated to America when he was 18 years old from India. In the ’70s and ’80s, Poonnen, and fellow classmates, joked that at the time there were only two careers worth pursuing: medicine or engineering. Armed with a passion for physics and math, and a scholarship to Dartmouth, Poonen’s love for technology manifested itself in those four years in Boston, Ma., crediting a lot of his success to his STEM background.
“Whether you end up studying engineering or studying something else you have to have a good foundation in STEM,” Poonen said.
After stops with Microsoft, Apple, and a few in between, Poonen now serves as the Chief Operating Officer at VMware, a position he’s held since 2013 and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of VMware’s business, including technology and business development. It’s a role that he doesn’t take lightly and says his willingness to step outside of the box helped him get to where he is today.
“If you want to be a stronger general manager, I encourage leaders to do a tour of duty in functions outside of what they normally do,” Poonen said. “So if you’re coming from an engineering role, go spend some time with the go-to-market team, sales and marketing, or business developers, and really run revenue when you have it such that you’re dependent on the making of those numbers.”
Because of his willingness to experience different parts of the organization, those skills have allowed Poonen to make a bigger difference within the company. Poonen contends it’s all about continual learning and making sure that you carry a growth mindset with you every day.
“The moment you stop learning, it’s probably time to go do something different and that day hasn’t come for me yet,” Poonen said.
One instance of how Poonen has challenged himself recently is through networking, specifically through social media by leveraging their chat functions to converse with other industry leaders to gain insights or seek advice on certain issues. He states that the best CIOs think like business leaders, using every message to get in front of another individual.
“I’m wired a little bit like a relationship person who likes to ask questions, likes to gain insights, but if I have a half an hour with a particular CIO, I’m structuring it in a way where the first 15 minutes I’m asking, I’m listening to him or her based on questions I can ask them and then the next 10 minutes I might give them a little bit of our perspective,” he said.
So what are the most important things Poonen has learned from his peers during his conversations? Like any great team, the most successful CTO’s prioritize team building and the overall experience of their customer and employees.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you wanna go far, go in pairs,” Poonen said. “When you’re able to balance both of those together and you know, the CIO and CTO, they’re probably getting pressure all that times being they’ve been bombarded by vendors one time and that calendar bombarded by people who’ve said, you just have to have a very simple, easy way of being able to respond to the people that matter to you. And that’s why relationships do come on a lot. And then just ignore the ones that are just noise.”
The parting shot of wisdom Poonen left the show with is the responsibility IT leaders have for the future of their individual companies, but also the industry. Stressing that the field is at a crossroads currently with many companies possessing power, but making sure they use that power and influence for good.
“Everyone of us as leaders and executives need to be people who are role models with integrity and these values,” Poonen said. “No point being able to talk about tech for good and all of this stuff. If you’re ultimately creating a company or living in individual life, that’s sort of like an Enron. I think every leader has to examine themselves and ask themselves that they living individually, um, in their family and in the extended family of their company as people of integrity.” —